fourteen pound turkey

I can’t remember the last time I roasted a turkey.  Thanksgiving is always at my parent’s and my father is the master of the turkey each year.  It is the one time of year that I participate in the ritual of this meal and eat the turkey and with it, the gratitude that comes with the meaning inherent in each lovingly prepared dish. And like the turkey at Thanksgiving, I feel the same way about the turkey tetrazzini at Christmas…

Christmas is always at my home.  In countless years past my parents arrive and my father’s gift to me begins as he takes over in the kitchen, stocks the refrigerator, and plans and prepares Christmas dinner.  Which leaves me free to become completely absorbed in my love of ‘making Christmas’  in all the ways I do, including final batches of cookies, decorations, and making of gifts. Last but not least, I am the maker of the ritual Christmas turkey tetrazzini, usually with turkey meat from a small roasted breast just for this purpose.  This year however I have a clear vision of roasting a whole turkey.  I can’t shake it.  Finally, a few days before my parent’s arrival, I find myself perusing the turkeys at the grocery store, and it doesn’t take but a minute to put the gorgeous fourteen pound fresh, naturally and sustainably raised bird into my cart.  It is all completely beyond my control.  Smile.  Before I even get to the checkout counter, I have visions of this one bird giving to us turkey dinner, turkey tetrazzini, and turkey soup.  I call my parents as soon as I get home and inform them of my plan to let this turkey be the heart of our meals for the next four days….

I’ve never brined a turkey, but my father always does and it always produces a moist flavorful meat.  I consult google and find a plethora of brining recipes and settle on one that includes spices like fennel and pepper and tamari in addition to the requisite amount of kosher salt.  The turkey fits perfectly into the large canning pot and after preparing and adding the brine to just cover the turkey, set it all on the top shelf of the refrigerator for the next twelve hours.   About an hour before roasting, turkey is removed from brine and patted dry, rubbed with oil and seasonings, and put into a pre-heated 325 degree oven.  When my parents arrive, the house is filled with the aroma of roasted turkey.  We feast that first night on the fresh roast, a large pan of roasted carrots, parsnips, green beans, broccoli & brussell sprouts, and plain white rice, all made even tastier with a dribble of the hot pan juices.  The holiday has begun.

This year, the tetrazzini is the main event of Christmas dinner.  I’m not sure when this ritual began as it wasn’t something I grew up with.  It’s simply the ultimate comfort food and somehow, no matter what our dietary habits during the rest of the year may be, we give it up to this deceptively simple casserole for the holiday.  As with all great casserole type dishes, it can be prepared hours in advance and then popped into the oven just a half hour before mealtime.  I always at least double the following recipe to serve a dozen or more people.  Leftovers the day after are as coveted as the main event, so making extra is always a good thing!  Prepare about two cups of the cooked turkey into bite size pieces and set aside.  Melt four tablespoons butter in a double boiler and whisk in 1/3 cup flour until smooth.   Add two cups broth (this year I use Imagine No-Chicken broth instead of chicken or turkey broth…makes it easier for the vegetarians to share the meal…) and whisk until smooth and thickened over the heat.  Add one cup half and half, two tablespoons dry sherry, salt & pepper.  Meanwhile, boil a pot of water for cooking 1/2 pound spaghetti al dente, rinse in cold water and toss with a little olive oil.  In a large saucepan, saute a chopped small-medium onion, about 1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms, and 1/2 cup slivered almonds in a tablespoon butter until soft and fragrant, turn off fire and let cool a few minutes. Add the pasta to the pan and mix together with the vegetables.   Divide the sauce in half, add one part to the turkey pieces and the other to the spaghetti/onion/mushroom mixture.  Put the spaghetti half into a greased baking dish, make a big hole in the center and pour in the turkey half.  Cover it all with about 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese and a little paprika too if so desired.  At this point, it seems like everything is swimming in too much sauce, but know that after sitting awhile and then baking, this dish is transformed into a rich, creamy, and irresistible texture with the most amazing unique flavor.  It is such an indulgence, and so special at the same time as it is only made for this one meal each year.  A little bit goes a long way, and a little bit is all we need to remind us of just how lucky we are to have this delicious meal in the company of loved ones.  Served this year around a candle lit table with a roasted beet/apple salad, a tossed green salad, and a starter of ginger carrot soup,  it becomes a colorful and memorable celebration.

My parents return home the day after and the exact same meal is repeated the next night for a group of local friends with the rest of the meat from the fourteen pound turkey.  The table is fitted with all its leaves and set for fourteen people, lit by candles and good cheer once again.  It is an evening filled with much animated conversation and laughter, which can be felt in the scene of well used napkins even after the table has been cleared…

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The remains of the fourteen pound turkey are placed in a large soup pot and boiled the next day, yielding a gorgeous pot of broth.  Vegetables are added and the resulting soup continues to nourish us for days.  The fourteen pound turkey that has honored us with so much as been so honored in return…

Reflecting on this eve of the year two thousand fourteen, I can’t help but wonder about all the places that ‘fourteen’ is showing up this Christmas week. It has always been a sacred number for me and I don’t question its presence, but still feel compelled to search for additional messages nonetheless.  One of the many sites on Google offering information about the meaning of ‘fourteen’ shares

the fourteen beatitudes of saint Anselme and saint Bernard rewarding the blissful in the Paradise. The seven beatitudes of the body: health, beauty, the agility, force, liberty, pleasure, longevity. The seven beatitudes of the soul: agree, honor, power, security, joy, wisdom, friendship…

a perfect reflection at the end of another blessed year, and at the beginning of another blessed year…